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SERMON LVI.

[Preached at Whitehall 1686, before the Princess Anne.]

THE EXCELLENCY OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son: of whom it was said that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.—Heb. xi. 17, 18, 19.

THE design of this Epistle to the Hebrews is to recommend to them the Christian religion, to which they were but newly converted, and to encourage them to constancy in the profession of it, notwithstanding the sufferings which attended it. He sets before them in this chapter several examples in the Old Testament of those, who, though they were tinder a much more imperfect dispensation, yet by a stedfast belief in God and his promises, had performed such wonderful acts of obedience and self-denial.

He begins with the patriarchs before the flood; but insists chiefly upon the examples of two eminent persons of their own nation, as nearest to them, and most likely to prevail upon them—the examples of Abraham and Moses: the one the father of their nation, the other their great lawgiver; and both of them the greatest patterns of faith, and obedience, 27and self-denial, that the history of all former ages, from the beginning of the world, had afforded.

I shall, at this time, by God’s assistance, treat of the first of these—the example of Abraham, the constancy of whose faith, and the cheerfulness of whose obedience, even in the difficultest cases, is so remarkable above all the other examples mentioned in this chapter. For, at the command of God he left his kindred and his country, not knowing whither he should go: by which eminent act of obedience he declared himself to be wholly at God’s disposal, and ready to follow him. But this was no trial in comparison of that here in my text, when God commanded him to offer up his only son: but such was the immutable stedfastness of his faith, and the perfect submission of his obedience, that it does not appear that he made the least check at it; but, out of perfect reverence and obedience to the authority of the Divine command, he went about it as readily and cheerfully, as if God had bid him do some small thing: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.”

For the explication of which words, it will be requisite to consider two things:

First, The trial or temptation in general.

Secondly, The excellency of Abraham’s faith and obedience upon this trial.

First, The trial or temptation in general: it is said, that “Abraham, when he was tried;” the word is πειραζόμενος, “being tempted;” that is, God intending to make trial of his faith and obedience: and so it is expressed, Gen. xxii. 1. where it is said, that “God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Take now thy son, thine only son.”

Now there are two difficulties concerning this 28matter. It seems contrary to Scripture, that God should tempt any man; and contrary to reason: because God, who knows what every man will do, needed not to make trial of any man’s faith and obedience.

First, It seems contrary to Scripture, which says, “God tempts no man:” and it is most true, that God tempts no man, with a design to draw him into sin; but this doth not hinder, but he may try their faith and obedience with great difficulties, to make them the more illustrious. Thus God tempted Abraham; and he permitted Job, and even our blessed Saviour himself, to be thus tempted.

Secondly, It seems contrary to reason, that God, who knows what any man will do in any circum stances, should go to make trial of it. But God does not try men for his own information; but to give an illustrious proof and example to others of faith and obedience: and though after this trial of Abraham, God says to him, “Now I know that thou lovest me, because thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me;” yet we are to understand this as spoken after the manner of men; as God elsewhere speaks to Abraham concerning Sodom; “I will go down now to see whether they have done altogether according to the cry which is come up unto me; and, if not, I will know.”

I proceed to the second thing I proposed—the excellency of Abraham’s faith and obedience upon this trial: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.” God accepts of it, as if he had done it; because he had done it in part, and was ready to have performed the rest, if God had not countermanded him.

And this act of faith and obedience in Abraham 29 will appear the more illustrious, if we consider these three things:

I. The firmness and stedfastness of his faith, notwithstanding the objections against it.

II. The constancy of his resolution, notwithstanding the difficulty of the thing.

III. The reasonableness of his faith, in that he gave satisfaction to himself in so hard and perplexed a case.

I. The firmness and stedfastness of his faith will appear, if we consider what objections there were in the case, enough to shake a very strong faith. There were three great objections against this command, and such as might in reason make a wise and good man doubtful whether this command were from God.

The horrid nature of the thing commanded. The grievous scandal that might seem almost unavoidably to follow upon it.

And the horrible consequence of it, which seemed to make the former promise of God to Abraham void. First, The horrid nature of the thing commanded, which was, for a father to kill his own child. This must needs appear very barbarous and unnatural, and look liker a sacrifice to an idol than to the true God.

It seemed to be against the law of nature, and directly contrary to that kindness and affection, which God himself had planted in the hearts of parents towards their children.

And there is no affection more natural and strong than this: for there are many persons that would redeem the lives of their children with the hazard of their own. Now that God hath planted such an affection in nature, is an argument that it is good, 30and therefore it could not but seem strange that he should command any thing contrary to it; and in this case there were two circumstances that in creased the horror of the fact—that his son was innocent, and that he was to slay him with his own hands.

1. That his son was innocent. It would grieve the heart of any father to give up his son to death, though he were never so undutiful and disobedient.

So passionately was David affected with the death of his son Absalom, as to wish he had died for him, though he died in the very act of rebellion, and though the saving of his life had been inconsistent with the peace of his government.

How deep then must it sink into the heart of a father to give up his innocent son to death? and such a son was Isaac, for any thing that appeared to the contrary. God himself gave him this testimony, that he was “the son whom his father loved, and there is no intimation of any thing to the contrary. Now this could not but appear strange to a good man, that God should command an innocent person to be put to death. But,

2. That a father should be commanded, not only to give up his son to death, but to slay him with his own hands; not only to be a spectator, but to be the actor in this tragedy. What father would not shrink and start back at such a command? What good man, especially in such a case, and where nature was so hard pressed, would not have been apt to have looked upon such a revelation as this, rather as the suggestion and illusion of an evil spirit, than a command of God? And yet Abraham’s faith was not staggered, so as to call this revelation of God in question.

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Secondly, The grievous scandal that might seem almost unavoidably to follow upon it, was another great objection against it. The report of such an action would in all appearance blemish the reputation, even of so good a man, amongst all sober and considerate persons, who could hardly forbear to censure him as a wicked and unnatural man.

And this was a hard case, for a man to be put to sacrifice at once two of the clearest things in the world—his reputation and his son: nor could he have easily defended himself from this imputation, by alleging an express revelation and command of God for it; for who would give credit to it?

A revelation to another man is nothing to mo, unless I be assured that he had such a revelation, which I cannot be, but either by another immediate revelation, or by some miracle to confirm it.

The act had an appearance of so much horror, that it was not easily credible that God should command it; and if every man’s confident pretence to revelation be admitted, the worst actions may plead this in their excuse. So that this pretence would have been so far from excusing his fault, that it must rather have been esteemed an high aggravation of it, by adding the boldest impiety to the most barbarous inhumanity.

But Abraham was not stumbled at this, nor at the advantage which the enemies of his religion would make of such an occasion, who would be ready to say, “Here is your excellent good man, and likely to be a friend of God, who was so cruel an enemy to his own son!” All this, it is probable, he might consider; but it did not move him, being resolved to obey God, and to leave it to his wisdom 32to provide against all the inconveniences that might follow upon it.

Thirdly, The strongest objection of all was, the horrible consequence of the thing, which seemed to clash with former revelations, and to make void the promise which God had before made to Abraham, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; which promise was expressly limited to Isaac and his posterity, who had then no son.

And of this difficulty the apostle takes express notice in the text, that “he that had received the promises, (that is, was persuaded of the truth and faithfulness of them) offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

And this objection is really so strong, that if Abraham could not have given himself satisfaction about it, lie might justly have questioned the truth of the revelation. For no man can possibly entertain two contradictory revelations as from God, but he must of necessity question one or both of them: but so strong was Abraham’s faith, as not to be shaken by the seeming contradiction of these two revelations.

II. We will consider the constancy of his resolution to obey God, notwithstanding the harshness and difficulty of the thing. Though Abraham were firmly persuaded, that this command to kill his son was really from God, yet it is no easy matter for a man to bring himself to obey God in so difficult a case; and, out of mere reverence to the Divine authority, to divest himself of his nature, and to thwart the strongest inclinations of it: a man would be very apt to confer with fresh and blood in such a case. Let 33but any man that knows what it is to be a father, lay his hand upon his heart, and consider his own bowels, and he will be astonished at Abraham’s obedience as well as his faith.

To take his son, his only son, his son whom he loved, and in whom he placed all his hopes of a happy posterity, and with his own hands to destroy him and all his hopes together! It must be a strong faith that will engage a man to obedience in so difficult an instance.

There is one circumstance more especially, which renders Abraham’s obedience very remarkable—the deliberateness of the action. It had not been so much, if so soon as he had received this command from God, he had upon a sudden impulse and transport of zeal done this.

But that his obedience might be the more glorious, and have all the circumstances of advantage given to it, God would have it done deliberately, and upon full consideration; and therefore he bade him go to the mountain, three days journey from the place where he was, and there to offer up his son.

It is in acts of virtue and obedience, as in acts of sin and vice; the more deliberate the sin is, and the more calm and sedate temper the man is in when he commits it, the greater is the fault; whereas, what is done by surprise, in the heat of temptation, or transport of passion, hath some excuse from the suddenness and indeliberateness of it.

So it is in acts of virtue and obedience, especially if they be attended with considerable difficulty; the more deliberately they are done, the more virtuous they are, and the greater praise is due to them.

Now, that Abraham’s obedience might want no thing to heighten it, God seems on purpose to have 34put so long a space betwixt the command and the performance of it; he gives him time to cool upon it, to weigh the command, and to look on every side of this difficult duty; he gives scope for his reason to argue and debate the case, and opportunity for natural affection to play its part, and for flesh and blood to raise all its batteries against the resolution which he had taken up.

And now we may easily imagine what conflict this good man had within himself during those three days that he was travelling to the mountain in Moriah; and how his heart was ready to be rent in pieces, betwixt his duty to God and his affection to his child; so that every step of this unwelcome and wearisome journey, he did, as it were, lay violent hands upon himself.

He was to offer up his son but once; but he sacrificed himself and his own will every moment for three days together; and when he came thither, and all things were ready, the altar, the wood, the fire, and the knife, it must needs be a stabbing question, and wound him to the heart, which his innocent son so innocently asked him, “where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?”

It must be a strong faith indeed, and a mighty resolution, that could make him to hold out three days against the violent assaults of his own nature, and the charming presence of his son, enough to melt his heart, as often as he cast his eyes upon him: and yet nothing of all this made him to stagger in his duty, but “being strong in faith, he gave glory to God,” by one of the most miraculous acts of obedience that ever was exacted from any of the sons of men.

III. In the third and last place, I come to consider 35the reasonableness of his faith, in that he was able to give satisfaction to himself in so intricate and perplexed a case. The constancy of Abraham’s faith, was not an obstinate and stubborn persuasion, but the result of the wisest reasoning, and soberest consideration.

So the text says, that “he counted,” the word is λογισάμενος, “he reasoned with himself, that God was able to raise him up from the dead;” so that he debated the matter with himself, and gave himself satisfaction, concerning the objections and difficulties in the case; and, being fully satisfied that it was a Divine command, he resolved to obey it.

As for the objections I have mentioned:

1. The horrid appearance of the thing, that a father should slay his innocent son. Why should Abraham scruple the doing this, at the command of God, who, being the author of life, hath power over it, and may resume what he hath given, and take away the life of any of his creatures when he will, and make whom he pleaseth instruments in the execution of his command?

It was indeed a hard case, considering natural affection; and therefore God did not permit it to be executed.

But the question of God’s right over the lives of men, and of his authority to command any man to be the instrument of his pleasure in such a case, admits of no dispute.

And though God hath planted strong affections in parents towards their children; yet he hath written no law in any man’s heart to the prejudice of his own sovereign right. This is a case always excepted, and this takes away the objection of injustice.

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2. As to the scandal of it, that could be no great objection in those times, when the absolute power of parents over their children was in its full force, and they might put them to death without being accountable for it. So that then it was no such startling matter to hear of a father putting his child to death. Nay, in much later times we find, that in the most ancient laws of the Romans, (I mean those of the twelve tables) children are absolutely put in the power of their parents, to whom is given, jus vita et necis, “a power of life and death” over them; and likewise to sell them for slaves.

And though amongst the Jews this paternal power was limited by the law of Moses; and the judgment of life and death was taken out of the father’s hands, except in case of contumacy and rebellion; (and even in that case the process was to be before the elders of the city) yet it is certain, that in elder times the paternal power was more absolute and unaccountable, which takes off much from the horror and scandal of the thing, as it appears now to us who have no such power.

And therefore we do not find in the history, that this objection did much stick with Abraham; it being then no unusual thing for a father to put his child to death upon a just account.

And the command of God, who hath absolute dominion over the lives of his creatures, is certainly a just reason; and no man can reasonably scruple the doing of that, upon the command of God, which he might have done by his own authority, without being accountable for the action, to any but God only.

3. As to the objection from the horrible consequence of the thing commanded, that the slaying of 37Isaac seemed to overthrow the promise which God had made before to Abraham, that in Isaac his seed should be called: this seems to him to be the great difficulty, and here he makes use of reason, to reconcile the seeming contradiction of this command of God to his former promise. So the text tells us, that “he offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called; reasoning that God was able to raise him up from the dead.” So that, though Isaac were put to death, yet he saw how the promise of God might still be made good by his being raised from the dead, and living afterwards to have a numerous posterity.

There had then indeed been no instance, or example, of any such thing in the world, as the resurrection of one from the dead, which makes Abraham’s faith the more wonderful: but he confirmed himself in this belief, by an example as near the case as might be: he reasoned, “that God was able to raise him from the dead, from whence also he had received him in a figure.”

This, I know, is by interpreters generally under stood of Isaac’s being delivered from the jaws of death, when he was laid upon the altar, and ready to be slain. But the text seems not to speak of what happened after; but of something that had passed before, by which Abraham confirmed himself in this persuasion, that if he were slain, God would raise him up again.

And so the words ὅθεν ἐκομίσατο ought to be rendered, in the past time, “from whence also he had received him in a figure.” So that this expression plainly refers to the miraculous birth of Isaac, when his parents were past the age of having children; 38which was little less than a resurrection from the dead.

And so the Scripture speaks of it, (Rom. iv. 17.) “Abraham believed God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things which are not, as if they were; and not being weak in faith, he considered not his own body which was dead;” (and a little before the text, speaking of the miraculous birth of Isaac) “and therefore sprang there of one, and him as good as dead, as many as the stars of heaven.”

From whence (as the apostle tells us) Abraham reasoned thus: that God, who gave him Isaac at first in so miraculous a manner, was able by another miracle to restore him to life again, after he was dead, and to make him the father of many nations. He reasoned, “that God was able to raise him up from the dead, from whence also he had received him in a figure.”

Thus you see the reasonableness of Abraham’s faith; he pitched upon the main difficulty in the case, and he answered it as well as was possible: and in his reasoning about this matter he gives the utmost weight to every thing that might tend to vindicate the truth and faithfulness of God’s promise, and to make the revelations of God consistent with one another; and this, though he had a great interest and a very tender concernment of his own to have biassed him.

For he might have argued with great appearance and probability the other way: but as every pious and good man should do, he reasoned on God’s side, and favoured that part. Rather than disobey a command of God, or believe, that his promise should be frustrate, he will believe any thing that is credible and possible, how improbable soever. 39Thus far faith will go; but no farther. From the believing of plain contradictions and impossibilities, it always desires to be excused.

Thus much for explication of the words; which I hope hath not been altogether unprofitable, because it tends to clear a point which hath something of difficulty and obscurity in it, and to vindicate the Holy Scripture, and the Divine revelation therein contained, from one of the most specious objections of infidelity.

But I had a farther design in this text; and that is, to make some observations and inferences from it, that may be of use to us. As,

First, That human nature is capable of clear and full satisfaction, concerning a Divine revelation. For if Abraham had not been fully and past all doubt assured that this was a command from God, he would certainly have spared his son. And no thing is more reasonable, than to believe, that those, to whom God is pleased to make immediate revelations of his will, are some way or other assured that they are Divine; otherwise they would be in vain, and to no purpose.

But how men are assured concerning Divine revelations made to them, is not so easy to make out to others: only these two things we are sure of.

1. That God can work in the mind of man a firm persuasion of the truth of what he reveals, and that such a revelation is from him. This no man can doubt of, that considers the great power and influence, which God, who made us, and perfectly knows our frame, must needs have upon our minds and understandings.

2. That God never offers any thing to any man’s belief, that plainly contradicts the natural and essential 40notions of his mind; because this would be for God to destroy his own workmanship, and to impose that upon the understanding of man, which, whilst it remains what it is, it cannot possibly admit.

For instance, we cannot imagine, that God should reveal to any man any thing that plainly contradicts the essential perfections of the Divine nature; for such a revelation can no more be supposed to be from God, than a revelation from God, that there is no God; which is a downright contradiction.

Now to apply this to the revelation which God made to Abraham, concerning the sacrificing of his son: this was made to him by an audible voice, and he was fully satisfied by the evidence which it carried along with it, that it was from God.

For this was not the first of many revelations that had been made to him; so that he knew the manner of them, and had found, by manifold experience, that he was not deceived, and upon this experience was grown to a great confidence in the truth and goodness of God. And, it is very probable, the first time God appeared to Abraham, because it was a new thing, that to make way for the credit of future revelations, God did shew himself to him in so glorious a manner, as was abundantly to his conviction.

And this St. Stephen does seem to intimate: (Acts vii. 2.) “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia.” Now by this glorious appearance of God to him at first, he was so prepared for the entertainment of after-revelations, that he was not staggered even at this, concerning the sacrificing of his son, being both by the manner of it, and the assurance that accompanied it, fully satisfied, that it was from God.

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Secondly, I observe from hence the great and necessary use of reason in matters of faith. For we see here, that Abraham’s reason was a mighty strengthening and help to his faith. Here were two revelations made to Abraham, which seemed to clash with one another; and if Abraham’s reason could not have reconciled the repugnancy of them, he could not possibly have believed them both to be from God; because this natural notion or principle, that “God cannot contradict himself,” every man does first, and more firmly believe, than any revelation whatsoever.

Now Abraham’s reason relieved him in this strait. So the text expressly tells us: “he reasoned with himself, that God was able to raise him from the dead.”

And this being admitted, the command of God, concerning the slaying of Isaac, was very well consistent with his former promise, that—in Isaac his seed should be called.

I know there hath a very rude clamour been raised by some persons (but of more zeal, I think, than judgment), against the use of reason in matters of faith: but how very unreasonable this is, will appear to any one that will but have patience to consider these following particulars:

1. The nature of Divine revelation; that it doth not endow men with new faculties, but propoundeth new objects to the faculties, which they had before. Reason is the faculty whereby revelation is to be discerned; for when God reveals any thing to us, he reveals it to our understanding, and by that we are to judge of it. Therefore St. John cautions us, (1 John iv. 1.) “Not to believe every spirit; but to try the spirits whether they are of God; because 42many false prophets are gone out into the world;” that is, there are many that falsely pretend to inspiration: but how can these pretenders be tried and discerned from those that are truly inspired, but by using our reason, in comparing the evidence for the one and the other?

2. This will farther appear, if we consider the nature of faith. Faith (as we are now speaking of it) is an assent of the mind to something as revealed by God: now all assent must be grounded upon evidence; that is, no man can believe any thing, unless he have or thinks he hath some reason to do so. For to be confident of a thing without reason, is not faith; but a presumptuous persuasion and obstinacy of mind.

3. This will yet be more evident, if we consider the method that must of necessity be used to convince any man of the truth of religion. Suppose we had to deal with one that is a stranger and enemy to Christianity, what means are proper to be used to gain him over to it? The most natural method surely were this—to acquaint him with the Holy Scriptures, which are the rule of our faith and practice. He would ask us, Why we believe that book? The proper answer would be, Because it is the word of God: this he could not but acknowledge to be a very good reason, if it were true: but then he would ask, Why we believed it to be the word of God, rather than Mahomet’s Alcoran, which pretends no less to be of Divine inspiration?

If any man now should answer, that he could give no reason why he believed it to be the word of God, only he believed it to be so, and so every man else ought to do without inquiring after any farther reason, because reason is to be laid aside in matters 43of faith; would not the man presently reply, that he had just as much reason as this comes to, to believe the Alcoran, or any thing else; that is, none at all?

But certainly the better way would be to satisfy this man’s reason by proper arguments, that the Scriptures are a Divine revelation, and that no other book in the world can with equal reason pretend to be so: and if this be a good way, then we do and must call in the assistance of reason for the proof of our religion.

4. Let it be considered farther, that the highest commendations that are given in Scripture to any one’s faith, are given upon account of the reasonableness of it. Abraham’s faith is famous, and made a pattern to all generations, because he reasoned himself into it, notwithstanding the objections to the contrary, and he did not blindly break through these objections, and wink hard at them: but he looked them in the face, and gave himself reasonable satisfaction concerning them.

The centurion’s faith is commended by our Saviour, (Matth. viii. 9.) because when his servant was sick, he did not desire him to come to his house, but to speak the word only, and his servant should be healed: for he reasoned thus, “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” Now if he, that was himself under authority, could thus command those that were under him , much more could he, that had a Divine power and commission, do what he pleased by his word. And our Saviour is so far from reprehending him for reasoning himself into this belief, that he admires his faith so much the more for the reasonableness of 44it. (Ver. 10.) “When Jesus heard this he marvelled, and said to them that followed him, Verily, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.”

In like manner our Saviour commends the woman of Canaan’s faith, because she inforced it so reasonably. (Matt. xv. 22.) She sued to him to help her daughter: but he answered her not a word: and when his disciples could not prevail with him to mind her, yet still she pressed him, “saying, Lord help me;” and when he repulsed her with this severe answer, “It is not meet to take the children’s meat and cast it to dogs;” she made this quick and modest reply, “Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table/ She acknowledgeth her own unworthiness; but yet believes his goodness to be such, that he will not utterly reject those who humbly seek to him: upon which he gives her this testimony—“O woman, great is thy faith!”

The apostles were divinely inspired; and yet the Bereans are commended, because they inquired and satisfied themselves in the reasons of their belief, before they assented to the doctrine which was delivered to them, even by teachers that certainly were infallible.

5. None are reproved in Scripture for their unbelief, but where sufficient reason and evidence was offered to them. The Israelites were generally blamed for their infidelity; but then it was after such mighty wonders had been wrought for their conviction.

The Jews, in our Saviour’s time, are not condemned simply for their unbelief; but for not believing when there was such clear evidence offered 45to them. So our Saviour himself says, “If I had not done amongst them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin.”

Thomas, indeed, is blamed for the perverseness of his unbelief, because he would believe nothing but what he himself saw.

Lastly, To shew this yet more plainly, let us consider the great inconvenience and absurdity of declining the use of reason in matters of religion. There can be no greater prejudice to religion, than to decline this trial.

To say we have no reason for our religion, is to say it is unreasonable. Indeed, it is reason enough for any article of our faith, that God hath revealed it; because this is one of the strongest and most cogent reasons for the belief of any thing. But when we say God hath revealed any thing, we must be ready to prove it, or else we say nothing. If we turn off reason here, we level the best religion in the world with the wildest and most absurd enthusiasms.

And it does not alter the case much, to give reason ill names, to call it blind and carnal reason. Our best reason is but very short and imperfect: but since it is no better, we must make use of it as it is, and make the best of it.

Before I pass from this argument, I cannot but observe, that both the extremes of those who differ from our church, are generally great declaimers against the use of reason in matters of faith. If they find their account in it, it is well; for our parts we apprehend no manner of inconvenience, in having reason on our side; nor need we to desire a better evidence, that any man is in the wrong, than to hear him declare against reason, and thereby to acknowledge that reason is against him. Men may vilify 46reason as much as they please; and though being reviled she reviles not again, yet in a more still and gentle way, she commonly hath her full revenge upon all those that rail at her.

I have often wondered that people can with patience endure to hear their teachers and guides talk against reason; and, not only so, but they pay them the greater submission and veneration for it. One would think this but an odd way to gain authority over the minds of men; but some skilful and designing men have found by experience, that it is a very good way to recommend them to the ignorant; as nurses use to endear themselves to children, by perpetual noise and nonsense.

Thirdly, I observe, that God obligeth no man to believe plain and evident contradictions, as matters of faith. Abraham could not reasonably have believed this second revelation to have been from God, if he had not found some way to reconcile it with the first. For though a man were never so much disposed to submit his reason to Divine revelation, yet it is not possible for any man to believe God against God himself.

Some men seem to think, that they oblige God mightily, by believing plain contradictions. But the matter is quite otherwise. He that made man a reasonable creature, cannot take it kindly from any man to debase his workmanship, by making himself unreasonable. And therefore, as no service, or obedience; so no faith is acceptable unto God, but what is reasonable: if it be not so, it may be confidence or presumption; but it is not faith. For he that can believe plain contradictions, may believe any thing, how absurd soever, because nothing can be more absurd, than the belief of a plain contradiction; 47and he that can believe any thing, believes nothing upon good grounds, because to him truth and falsehood art all one.

Fourthly. I observe, that the great cause of the defect of men’s obedience is the weakness of their faith. Did we believe the commands of God in the gospel, and his promises and threatenings, as firmly as Abraham believed God in this case; what should we not be ready to do, or suffer, in obedience to him?

If our faith were but as strong and vigorous as his was, the effects of it would be as great and conspicuous. Were we verily persuaded, that all the precepts of our religion are the express laws of God, and that all the promises and threatenings of the gospel will one day be verified and made good; “what manner of persons should we be in all holy conversation and godliness?” How would the lively thoughts of another world raise us above the vanities of this present life; and set us out of the reach of the most powerful temptations that this world can assault us withal; and make us to do all things with regard to eternity, and that solemn and dreadful account which we must one day make to God, the judge of all?

It is nothing but the want of a firm and steady belief of these things that makes our devotion so dead and heartless, and our resolutions of doing better so weak and inconsistent. This it is that makes us so easy a prey to every temptation; and the things of this world to look so much bigger than they are, the enjoyments of it more tempting, and the evils of it more terrible than in truth they are; and in all disputes betwixt our conscience and our interest, this makes us hold the balance so unequally, 48and to put our foot upon the lighter scale, that it may seem to weigh down the other.

In a word, in proportion to the strength or weakness of our faith, our obedience to God will be more or less constant, uniform and perfect; because faith is the great source and spring of all the virtues of a good life.

Fifthly, We have great reason to submit to the ordinary strokes of God’s providence upon ourselves, or near relations, or any thing that is dear to us. Most of these are easy, compared with Abraham’s case; it requires a prodigious strength of faith to perform so miraculous an act of obedience.

Sixthly, and lastly, We are utterly inexcusable, if we disobey the easy precepts of the gospel. “The yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden light,” in comparison of God’s former dispensations. This was a grievous commandment which God gave to Abraham, to sacrifice his only son: it was a hard saying indeed; and which of us could have been able to bear it?

But if God think fit to call us to the more difficult duties of self-denial, and suffering for his truth and righteousness sake, we must, after the example of faithful Abraham, not think much to deny, or part with any thing for him, no not life itself. But even this, which is the hardest part of religion, is easier than what God put upon Abraham.

For it doth not offer near the violence to nature, to lay down our life in a good cause, as it would do to put a child to death with our own hands. Be sides the consideration of the extraordinary comfort and support, and the glorious rewards, that are expressly promised to our obedience and self-denial in 49such a case; encouragement enough to make a very difficult duty easy.

And whilst I am persuading you and myself to resolution and constancy in our holy religion, not withstanding all hazards and hardships that may attend it, I have a just sense of the frailty of human nature, and of human resolution: but withal, a most firm persuasion of the goodness of God, that he will not suffer those who sincerely love him and his truth, “to be tempted above what they are able.”

I will add but one consideration more, to shew the difference betwixt Abraham’s case and our s. God commanded him to do the hardest thing in the world, to sacrifice his only son; but he hath given us an easy commandment; and that he might effectually oblige us to our duty, he hath done that for us which he required Abraham to do for him; he hath not spared his own Son, his only Son; but hath given him up to death for us all: “and hereby we know, that he loveth us, that he hath given his Son for us.”

What God required of Abraham, he did not intend should be executed; but one great design of it was to be a type and figure of that immense love and kindness which he intended to all mankind in the sacrifice of his Son, as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

And as the most clear and express promise of the Messias was made to Abraham; so the most express and lively type of the Messias that we meet with in all the Old Testament, was Abraham offering up his son. And, as St. Hierom tells us (from an ancient and constant tradition of the Jews), the mountain in Moriah, where Abraham was commanded 50to sacrifice Isaac, was Mount Calvary, where our Lord also was crucified and offered up, “that by this one sacrifice of himself, once offered, he might perfect for ever them that are sanctified, and obtain eternal redemption for us.”

“Now to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb that was slain; to God, even our Father, and to our Lord Jesus Christ, the first begot ten from the dead; to the Prince of the kings of the earth; to him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood; to him be glory, and honour, thanksgiving and power, now and for ever. Amen.”

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