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The argument he endeavours to bring from the law for redeeming the first-born may be turned against him, and proves the very contrary of what he produces it for. Since when God challenges every first born male of man and beast to himself, in memorial of his slaying the first-born of the Egyptians, and sparing the Israelites, which was a wise constitution, aptly contrived to keep up a constant memorial of this most extraordinary event, and consequently of their deliverance out of Egypt, the remembrance of which it was of high importance to preserve throughout all their generations; I say, when he made this constitution, he commanded the first-born among clean beasts to be sacrificed; but with regard to the firstborn of unclean beasts, which were forbidden in the law to be sacrificed, and all the first-born among men, they were expressly commanded to redeem them. A manifest proof that as he would not have unclean beasts to be sacrificed, so neither would he have any human sacrifices to be offered to him. This is the pla original law relating to that matter, Exod. xiii. 15, 18. Yet this writer has the confidence to tell us, that this law concerning the redemption of the first-born, which he calls a ' severe law, whereby were enjoined such terrible things in righteousness, laid them under an obligation to sacrifice their first-born children unto God. He is pleased, indeed, to allow that this law was afterwards very much mitigated or rather repealed,' viz. upon 'God's accepting all the
• males of Levi for the first-born males of all other tribes, as a ransom and redemption of their lives and souls. And if we would know how far that severe law was mitigated or repealed, he informs us that it consisted in this, that God hereby remitted the legal obligation of human sacrifices, and left it to the free choice and voluntary oblation of his people, whether their burnt-offerings of this kind should be either male or female, and whether it should be the first-born or not,' see pp. 137, 138. So that he supposes, that before the Levites were taken instead of the first-born, the Israelites were under a legal obligation to offer up all their first-born male children as sacrifices or burnt-offerings unto the Lord ; and afterwards they had the honour done them to leave it to their choice, not whether they should offer up any of their children at all, but to offer either males or females, or any other of their children, whether of the first-born or not.
But certainly an author that is capable of writing at this rate can have little regard either to truth or decency, or to his own reputation ; since it is impossible he should not be sensible that all this is his own fiction, without the least foundation in the law itself to support it. The original law which he refers to, Exod. xiii., is so far from laying the Israelites under a legal obligation' to offer their first-born as sacrifices to God, that to have done so would have been the most express and manifest breach of that law, which at the same time that it commands the firstlings of clean beasts to be sacrificed, expressly commands, again and again, not that the first-born of men should be sacrificed, but that they should be redeemed,' see Exod. xii. 13, 14; sec also Numb, xviii. 15, 16. And
when God took the Levites instead of the first-born to himself, and declared that they should be his, as the first-born should have been his in whose stead they were taken ; this plainly shows that as the firstlings of clean beasts were by virtue of their consecration to the Lord to be sacrificed, because sacrifices of such things were what the Lord accepted ; so the first-born among men, by virtue of their being sanctified to the Lord, must have been not sacrificed, but appropriated to his more immediate use, and to the service of the sanctuary; because God did not accept of human sacrifices. And accordingly it pleased him to take the Levites in their stead to serve him in the sanctuary, whom he gave to Aaron and the priests to minister unto them. This is the plain meaning of that transaction of which we have an account, Numb. ii. 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 41, 45. His poor playing upon the word redeemed is too trifling and contemptible to be taken notice of in opposition to the evident meaning of the text.
The instance he produceth of Abraham's attempting to offer up his son Isaac is so far from proving that God is represented in the books of Moses as approving human sacrifices, that it rather proves the contrary ; since, though God for the trial of his faith and obedience saw fit to command him to offer up Isaac, yet he would not suffer him to execute it. His forbidding him by a voice from heaven to lay his hand upon his son, showed that though he would have his servants pay an entire submission to his authority and will in all things, and to be ready to renounce their dearest interests for his sake, yet to be worshipped with human sacrifices was what he did not approve, and would not in any case permit; and therefore would not suffer it to take effect, not even in this single and extraordinary instance, though he could easily have raised Isaac from the dead, and have thus restored him to his indulgent father.
But this case deserves to be more distinctly considered, especially as our author here expresseth himself with such a peculiar air of confidence and triumph, as if it were a thing that could not possibly be defended. And many have taken pleasure in representing it as absolutely contrary to all justice and reason, and the law of nature, though the Scripture bestoweth high encomiums upon it as a noble instance of Abraham's faith and obedience.
Our Moral Philosopher would be thought to state the question relating to the case of Abraham with greater exactness than hath been hitherto done, and pretends that it hath been very much mistaken by those that have undertaken to defend it. He acknowledgeth that no doubt but every positive law, of what nature or kind soever, must be just and right, supposing it to be a command from God, how unreasonable or unfit soever it might appear to our weak, imperfect, and limited understandings. But then he saith, the question is, how God should command any such things, or what proof could be given of it if he did. A question which our systematical divines and positive law-men never cared to meddle with,
though this is the only thing they ought to speak to, if they would say any thing to the purpose,' p. 134.
It is not improper here to observe, that from his own concessions it plainly follows, that a thing's appearing unreasonable or unfit to our understandings is not a sufficient reason for our rejecting it, if we have otherwise a sufficient proof that this command came from God. For in that case we ought to charge the apparent unfitness of it on the weakness or darkness of our own understandings, and to believe that it would appear to us fit and reasonable, if we viewed it in the same light in which the divine understanding beholds it, and could take in the whole compass of things, and the relation they bear to the order and harmony of the whole. But then he saith the question is, how God should command such things, or what proof could be given of it if he did ?' As to the question, • how God should command such things, i.e. things that may appear unreasonable or unfit to our weak, imperfect, and limited understandings ? the answer is plain, he may command such things whenever it so happens, that though through the weakness of our understandings they appear unfit to us, yet in his own comprehensive wisdom he sees them to be fit and proper to be required of us in that circumstance of things, and may, therefore, see reasons for laying those commands upon us, which we do not at present see, but shall know afterwards. But he farther asks, if God gave such a command, what proof could be given of it? And he particularly asks, * How came Abraham to know this? I answer, that Abraham knew it by extraordinary revelation, which may be conveyed into the mind with such overpowering, irresistible light and evidence that a man can no more doubt of it than of any thing that he hears or sees. Concerning which see above, pp. 12–14, where it is also shown that this author himself acknowledgeth that such an immediate revelation may give an assurance and certainty to the mind equal to that arising from a mathematical demonstration. And particularly with regard to this case of Abraham, I cannot but think the reflection Maimonides makes a very just and sensible one : • That we are taught by this history that the prophets were fully assured of the truth of those things which God spake to them, which they believed as strongly as things of sense. For if Abraham had in the least doubted, whether this was the will of God or no, he would never have consented to a thing which nature abhorred.' More Nevoch. p. 3, cap. 24.
. It will farther confirm this, if it be considered, that this was not the first time of God's communicating his will to Abraham in a way of extraordinary revelation. He had done it several times before, and that in such a manner as gave him full assurance that it was God that spake to him.* In obedience to the will of God thus signified he had left his own country and kindred, and came into a land that he was an entire stranger to.
And when it was
See this well urged, · Revelation examined with Candour,' vol. ii. dissert. 8.
declared to him in the same way of extraordinary revelation, that he should have a son by his wife Sarah, though he was an hundred years old, and she was ninety, and had been barren all her days : he firmly believed it, however incredible it might seem to be, because he knew and was persuaded that it was God himself that promised it. And this promise of God, though contrary to the course of nature, was exactly fulfilled. When, therefore, the command came to him about sacrificing his son, it found him perfectly well acquainted with the manner of God's appearing to him, and communicating his will. And however strange and unaccountable that command might appear, yet he knew, by undoubted evidences, that it was the same God that spake to him, and gave him this command, that had spoken to him on so many occasions before, and had entered into covenant with him, and given him so many tokens of his favour. And as his soul was steadily possessed with the most adoring thoughts of God's supreme authority and dominion, and the most unshaken persuasion of his power, wisdom, righteousness, and goodness, so he did not doubt but he had wise and glorious ends in view in this particular extraordinary method of procedure, though he could not at present distinctly discern them; and therefore exercised an implicit dependence on the supreme wisdom and goodness, and an entire resignation to the divine will. He knew what promises God had made to him with regard to Isaac, and was firmly persuaded that he would order matters so that they should all be fully accomplished ; and that as he had received him from God in an extraordinary manner, and now was going to give him up to him in obedience to his command, so he should receive him from him again to greater advantage; ' accounting that God was able to raise him from the dead; as the apostle expresseth it, Heb. xi. 19. Considered in this view there is nothing in Abraham's conduct that is absurd or contrary to reason, nothing but what is suitable to his own amiable character, and which manifested the most excellent dispositions. And if God saw fit to take this extraordinary method to produce those glorious dispositions into a full and open light to the view and admiration of angels and men, by exercising him with one of the greatest trials that human nature can undergo (for what could be a greater trial than to command him to offer up his son Isaac, who was the heir of the promises, which seemed not only to be a losing his most beloved son, but a subverting all his own hopes and the promises made to him ?) I can see nothing in this that can be proved to be unworthy of the divine wisdom and goodness. The temporary pangs and uneasiness this gave Abraham were abundantly compensated by the unalterable transports of joy that must needs have overflowed his soul when he found his beloved child at once restored to him as it were from the dead, his obedience so highly approved by God himself, and the promises renewed to him in a more ample and glorious manner than before. This triumph of his faith in such an unparalleled trial, must have produced a satisfaction of him he was to have the posterity that was to inherit the land of Canaan; by him he was to have that seed in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed ; in a word, he looked upon this child as the heir of all the promises, and of the covenant. These being his sentiments, and which were confirmed in him by repeated revelations from time to time, it could never have entered into his mind, merely by the force of his own imagination, that God who had promised all this, would require of bim to put Isaac to death, in whom alone all these promises were to receive their accomplishment. However strong we suppose the force of his enthusiasm to be, it would never have carried him to imagine a thing contrary to all his hopes and expectations, and to all the former revelations which he believed he had received from God. It would have produced visions more agrecable to his darling hopes which he had so long conceived, and which were so deeply fixed in his soul. But if we should suppose that he had conceived so strange and wild a fancy in his circumstances, as to cause him to believe so strongly, that God had given him such a command, how comes it that the same heated imagination did not carry him to execute it? Can it be imagined that the same pang of enthusiasm that wrought in him so strong and peremptory an assurance, that it was the co
command of heaven that he should sacrifice his son, and that carried him to the very point of executing it, should in the same instant make him believe that he heard a voice from heaven forbidding him? This is absolutely inconceivable. His stopping in sucli circumstances, and when he was so absolutely possessed with the belief of a divine command, could never be owing to the workings merely of his own fancy; and showed that neither the beginning nor the ending of it was owing to the mere heat of his own imagination.
Again, if all this from first to last was an illusion of Abrahanı’s own imagination, and entirely owing to the force of his enthusiasm, then it must have been supposed that his other visions, and the appearances of God to him, and the promises made to him were also nothing else but workings of his own fancy. And no doubt this author would have it understood so. But we have good evidence to the contrary. Could he by the mere force of enthusiasm foretel that his posterity should be in a state of servitude and affliction in a foreign land, and at the end of four hundred years be brought out in a wonderful manner with great substance, and return again to the land of Canaan, and have it given them for an inheritance ? see Gen. 13--16. Could his enthusiasm enable him certainly to know that his wife Sarah, who had been barren all her days, and was then ninety years old, should bear him a child when he was an hundred? Or if he had been so wild as to have conceived an expectation of a thing so absolutely beyond the course of nature, could he by the mere force of enthusiasm have effected it?
Add to this, that Abraham was a wise and excellent person, one of the most honoured and distinguished characters in all antiquity;