Page images
PDF
EPUB

satisfy us of its propriety ; for, as Abraham said on another occasion, “ Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The command, nevertheless, remains to be aoccunted for; and this is what we propose to attempt.

I. The immediate purpose of the command is expressed in the commencement of the narrative: “It came to pass that God did tempt Abraham.” The word in the original is you, which signifies to try, prove, assay; and is never used, we believe, in the sense of endeavour, ing to persuade or induce another to commit sin.* In this latter sense, “ God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man," (James i. 13.) But the Hebrew verb, and even the English word tempt, in the sense of trial, proof, or experiment, are often employed, when the Divine Being is the object or the actor. “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted Him in Massah.” (Deut. vi. 16.) "Examine me, O Lord, and prove me, (1909) try my reins and my heart." (Psalm xxvi. 2.) It is in this sense, according to the inspired historian, that “God did tempt Abraham ;” He put the patriarch's faith and obedience to the severest test. It is difficult to conceive a sharper trial than that which Abraham was now called to endure. For Isaac was the child of promise, the son of his old age, whose birth had been an object of intense desire, and who, according to the Divine declaration, was to have become the father of an innumerable posterity. If God had required the son in the ordinary course of bis Providence, by accident or disease, or any other method which did not involve the father's agency or participation, and which left him no choice ; even then it would have been a severe dispensation. In such a case, however, acquiescence in the Divine will would not have been a distinction, since it is what many a believer, under the Old and the New Testament, has been called to exeroise. But for a father to be commanded to offer up his son, and be himself the priest who slays and burns the sacrifice; this was such a trial that, in the history of the true religion, there had never before been anything like it, nor could any such test ever occur again.

It is impossible to do justice to the narrative under considera. tion, unless we take into account the difference of the circumstances, and of the age in which Abraham lived, when contrasted with our own. The idea of a father sacrificing his son to God, was probably not new to Abraham. In after times we know it was but too common in that very country wbere he resided. In the time of Moses the Canaanites

• It is nsed in a more limited sense than the Greek word meipaw, and the Latin word tento, which are employed in both the above senses. The English words to tempt and temptation are most freqnently nsed in the sense of allurement or persuasion to evil, but not invariably so. Their primary signification, to try, and trial, is seen in such passages as these :--"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation : for when be is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.” (James i. 12.)

“Who sha'l tempt with wandering feet
The dark, un bottom'd, infinite abyss,
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncooth way ?"-" Paradise Lost," book ii., 11. 4.4-4.7.

offered human sacrifices. “Even their sons and their daughters they burnt in the fire to their gods.” (Deut. xii. 31.) But this was four hundred years after the age of Abraham, when " the iniquity of the Amorites vis not yet full.” (Gen. xv. 16.) Still, it is probable that in those ages which lie beyond the reach of our knowledge, the idea had begun to be entertained, that the life of a son, and especially of the eldest, the only, or the most beloved one, as it was the most valuable and precious offering they could present, so it must needs be the most meritorious, and the most acceptable to the gods they worshipped. There was a time when the only material offerings required of man were the flowers and fruits of the earth. But this was in Paradise, before our first parents fell. There was a time when the law of animal sacrifice was instituted, and when the command was new which required the blood and life of an innocent lamb or kid to be presented on God's altar. If human sacrifices had not began to be practised in Abraham's time, how could be know, when he received the command to offer up his son, but that this was to be an addition to the existing ritual, and a permanent though new institution? The truths of Christianity, so familiar to us, were unknown to him; and he lived long before the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. He knew the Griginal promise that "the Seed of the woman " should, though at the cost of His own suffering, wreak vengeance on the head of the ol! serpent. How could he know but that Isaac was that promised seel, and that his was to be the real, and not a figurative, sacrifice ?

But if the practice of human sacrifice had then already commenced among the Canaanites, the command to sacrifice a son would appear the less strange: and Abraham would understand, that as the heathen around bim showed their zeal for their false gods by this highest sacri. fice, the same was required of bim, as a test of his zeal and a proof of his regard for the true God. We must also remember, that the offering up of Isaac by his father, even if it had actually and literally been accomplished, would have been regarded by Abraham's neighbours, not sith blame or condemnation, as such an act at present would among us, but as an act of the greatest merit and highest piety. The command, therefore, at the time it was given, and in the circumstances of Abraham, was a fair and proper, though severe, trial of his faith, which has, in fact, served to render it illustrious in all succeeding ages. It was also a test of his love and obedience, and served to show that, as a worshipper of the true God, he was not less ready to offer to Him his best and dearest, than the idolatrous Canaaaites were to offer theirs to their false gods. The trial was unique : it could never be repeated, but was made once for all. If Abraham had known the result, as we know it, it would have been to him no trial at all. The certain anticipa. tion of a like result would render a similar command in all after times ineffectual for the purpose of such a “tempting;” and therefore its repetition must needs become impossible. But, unparalleled as the trial was, the faith of Abraham successfully endured it; and this was foreknown by Him who suffers not His people to be tempted above what they are able to bear. In giving the command, God knew that He had to do with an Abraham; and in obeying that command, Abraham knew that he had to do with God. Such was his faith in the power and promise, in the faithfulness and boundless resources, of the Almighty, that he believed God would restore Isaac to life after he was sacrificed ; although no example had yet occurred of a resurrection from the dead. “By faith Abraham”-as far as it depended on him"offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son.” “He staggered not through unbelief,” either at the promise or the command ; " but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.

[graphic]

II. A second and not less important purpose may have been intended, and was actually answered by the command, when taken in connexion with its result; namely, to discountenance the inhuman rites of pagan. ism, especially that of human sacrifices. Animal sacrifices had been instituted and enjoined, soon after the fall, by the command of God Himself. This we may infer from the acceptance of Abel's offering; (Gen. iv. 4;) and they continued to be practised by the patriarchs. These sacrifices were intended as a means of impressing on the minds of men a lively ser se of that forfeiture of life which had been incurred by transgression ; as an acknowledgment, on the part of the offerer, of his guilt and demerit; and as an expression of faith in that great sacrifice which they symbolized and prefigured. Human sacrifices were the perversion and abuse of this early institution, and they came at length to be regarded as the most solemn and meritorious of reli. gious acts; as much more sacred and important, as human life is of more value than that of an inferior animal. The custom prevailed among most of the pagan nations of antiquity, not excepting those of the greatest eminence. The Phænicians, the earliest navigators, offered up children in sacrifice to Saturn, and carried the custom with them into all their colonies. The practice of human sacrifice was found among the ancient Greeks and Romans, in India and Africa, where it is not yet extinct. It existed among the Germans, Gauls, and Britons; and was found in America, and in the South-Sea Islands, at the time of their discovery.

How shall we account for a custom so prevalent and wide-spread, and for its existence among nations who had no knowledge of, or intercourse with, each other for so many ages ? The depravity of human nature, the perverted sentiment of religion, the terrors of a guilty con. science, and the fear of Divine wrath, may serve to account for it. They who so far deviated from the purity of primeval faith and wore ship, as to represent the Divinity under human and bestial forms, bowing down to wood and stone, the work of their own hands, and offering sacrifice to demons, would by a similar perversion of the reasoning faculty infer, from the institution of animal sacrifices,-a prescribed and acceptable form of religious service,—that an offering still more valuable, precious, and beloved, would be still more acceptable in tbe sight of heaven, and the most effectual of all to expiate sin, and propitiate the Divine anger. Thus, according to Æschylus and Euripides, when che Greek Aeet lay becalmed in the Bay of Aulis, it was announced by the oracle that nothing but the blood of a virgin, and that virgin the daughter of Agamemnon, the commander of the fleet, would appease

the wrath of Diana, and secure the conquest of Troy. When Agatho. cles besieged Carthage, its inhabitants, feeling the extremity to which they were reduced, imputed all their misfortunes to the anger of Saturn; because, instead of offering up children of noble descent, as custom required, they had substituted the children of slaves and strangers. To make amends for this defect in their religious service, ito handred children of the best families in Carthage were immolated to propitiate the offended deity.

We learn from the sacred Scriptures that among the Canaanites, in the time of Moses, this horrid custom prevailed, -perhaps more exten. sirely than among any other people; and that by a powerful and strange fascination it extended to several neighbouring nations; nor did the Moabites and Ammonites, though descended from Abraham's kinsman Lot, nor the Israelites themselves, entirely escape its influence. When Mesha, the pastoral king of Moab, in the war against the three kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom, "saw that the battle was to sore for him," and that no effort of his would avail to repair his mi-furtune, in the extremity of his distress, and as a last resource to appease offended heaven, “he took his eldest son, that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall.” (2 Kings iii. 26, 27.)

But we return to the age of Abraham. The difficulty occasioned by the command which had been given him, and which his prompt obedi. ence had now brought to its climas, was one of which he was at the time unconscious; but it was an exigency which required the imme. diate interposition of Heaven. That interposition actually took place. As Isaac lay bound on the altar upon the wood, and Abraham grasped the knife to slay his son," the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said,... Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him : for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou bast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me." As if He had said, “ The trial is complete, without the actual sacrifice, which I now forbid." And in forbidding this consummation, he virtually forbade it, for all time, to all Abrabam's posterity, and to all who would imitate the faith of Abraham. For, if Abraham was not allowed to complete 1 sacrifice which had been commanded, much less shall such a sacrifice be sanctioned or accepted when uncommanded. And it was because the custom of human sacrifice had, in the time of Moses, become com. mon among the Canaanitish nations, that this virtual prohibition was then made express and emphatic; and that the Israelites were solemnly and repeatedly warned, not only against idolatry in general, but against adopting this branch of it in particular, the practice of which was declared detestable,-most heinous in the sight of God. “When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods ? even to will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God : for etery abomination to the Lord, which He hateth, have they done unto VOL. XIV.-FIFTE SERIES,

[graphic]

their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods." (Deut. xii. 29-31.)

And we find, in fact, that, with the exception of a few apostate and idolatrous Israelites in the times before the Babylonish captivity, the prohibition has been observed; and human sacrifices, which have so extensively prevailed in the heathen world, have been effectually abolished wherever the Bible has been received, or the influence of Christianity felt.

(To be concluded.)

[ocr errors]

WESTMINSTER: THE PROJECTED NEW CHAPEL. The city of Westminster contains a population of nearly a quarter of a million persons. For the purpose of a ready illustration of our topic, we may roughly estimate that this is nearly equal to the united popu. lation of Leeds and Bradford, taking the towns only, as distinct from the parliamentary boroughs. In these two towns Methodism provides chapel-accommodation for about twenty-five thousand persons: in the metropolitan city, the solitary Wesleyan chapel has sittings for four hundred and twenty adult persons, with a few additional inconvenient benches for Sunday-school children. Such is a broad statement of the case to which the Circular of October 11th, bearing the signature of the Rev. John Scott, refers; and to it we now invite the serious attention of our readers. Methodistically, this great population, along with that of Brompton, Fulham, Battersea, Chelsea, and Pimlico, is included in the Chelsea Circuit, which thus numbers within its boundaries at least three hundred and fifty thousand persons. Four years ago, by a very liberal estimate, Methodism, amongst this vast mass, offered accommodation for about two thousand two hundred persons, including Sunday-school children. At the present date, by great exertions, and with the aid of the Metropolitan Chapel-Building Fund, that accom. modation has been raised to three thousand five hundred sittings, being about one per cent. on the population just named.

It is but fair to require that those who seek assistance beyond their own Circuit boundaries should show that local effort has not been wanting. The foregoing figures, we apprehend, do sufficiently evince this; more especially, as we observe from Mr. Scott's Circular that the Chelsea Circuit engages to contribute a thousand pounds towards the projected building.

It would, of course, be hopeless to attempt to provide for the spiritual wants of this huge district, as regards Methodism, by any single effort; and the aim of the present project is confined accordingly within far narrower limits. It may at once be stated that the district to be benefitted by the proposed new chapel would be chiefly the parishes of St. Margaret and St. John, in Westminster, containing a joint population of about sixty-eight thousand persons. Comparatively limited as is this area, it is perhaps the most remarkable spot in the whole modern world, and exemplifies more strikingly than any other that could be named the strength and the weakness of our social arrangements. On

« PreviousContinue »